Muscatine County, Iowa


This first section is an introduction by Priscilla Williams:

Chauncey Burr Williams (1829 - 1903) left Muscatine in 1850 for the California Gold Rush, a journey that took about 6 months to complete. Chauncey's brother, Wesley "West" Williams, age 25, also joined the Gold Rush with another party, but died August 10, 1850 at Carson River, Nevada. Both men were sons of Dyer and Orenda Williams who came to Muscatine in 1843 from Butler County, Ohio. Chauncey "C.B." Williams eventually settled in San Francisco and is listed in the city's 1870 Federal Census, which indicates he accumulated considerable wealth. The letter was submitted by descendants: Priscilla Williams and Carol Williams Wise. Priscilla's email address is

Below is the actual letter:


Rough and Ready, Cal
April the 6th, 1851

Dear Father,

I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am in good health and hope 
these few lines may find you and the rest of the family enjoying the same 
blessings. I received your letter of January the first with [sister] 
Julia's about four weeks ago. I was very glad to hear that you were all 
well. The information that Julia gave me of West's sufferings and death was 
different from what I had heard and I think more true as I had nothing more 
than I wrote to you. I have never seen any of those who knew anything of 
the circumstances. Skooly I heard had left for home and I shall not get to 
see him here.

You requested me to send you the particulars of our journey. I shall try to 
do so but it would fill a volume to write it in full and if I thought I 
should be at home soon I would not write them at all but tell them to you 
when I got back. I shall commence at the Missouri River where we crossed 
the 24th of May. We soon got into the old Government road leading from Old 
Spring to new Fort Kearney where we arrived June the 2nd. Here we got into 
the St. Loo road and the plains were covered with wagons and stock, and 
here we had some of the hardest storms that I ever saw and in a few days 
the cholera broke out among the emigrants and such sufferings I never want 
to see again.

We traveled up main Platte about ten days, the bottoms being from four to 
six miles in width and a most beautiful road and very little timber. We 
cooked sometimes with switches not as large as my little finger and 
sometimes with buffalo chips.

We crossed the south Platte the 10th of June. It is about half a mile in 
width and from two to three feet in depth and very swift. We then crossed 
over to north Platte which is about fifteen miles. We struck the river at 
Ash Hollow. We passed Court House Rock the 18th and Chimney Rock the 19th 
and Scotts Bluff the 20th and arrived at Laramie the 22nd. At this place 
Mr. Krott was taken sick and was not able to do anything for more than a 
forenight and we were now in the black hills, and in these hills we lost an 
ox of the foot evil. This part of the road is very hard on cattle's feet. 
We got to North Platte ferry the 29th and got to Independence Rock the 
first day of July, a distance of fifty miles. There was no grass and very 
little water. We traveled almost day and night in order to get grass and 
water and here we found the Salaratus Lakes which were then dry and the 
ground was covered with salaratus. We had by this time seen many 
thrown-away wagons, also dead horses and cattle. We now traveled up Sweet 
Water about one week. The mountains on our right were of solid granite and 
on the top they were covered with timber and snow.

We crossed the summit of the Rocky Mountains the 9th. About twenty miles 
west of this we left the main road and took the Salt Lake road. On this 
part of the road we had plenty of grass and water and both the best 
quality, but it was mountainous and the ground full of lime or alkali, so 
much so that it took the skin off my tongue and the roof of my mouth and 
the dust was so thick that I was in fear of losing my sight. I have seen it 
so thick that men would get lost from the teams they were driving.

We finally arrived at Salt Lake City the 23rd of July with our teams much 
worn down for we had lost another ox. After I wrote you my Salt Lake 
letter, we traded two yoke for our cattle and got one yoke of fine fresh 
cattle for them and the folks that we joined in company with did the same 
so that we now had an excellent team. We then traveled up the north end of 
Salt Lake Valley and crossed Bear River the 1st of August and left the 
valley the same day. From this place on until we arrived at Truckee the 
road was very poor.

We got into the Fort Hall the 6th at the Steeple Rocks and struck the head 
of the Humboldt the 11th. Near the head of this river grass is good and 
plenty but as we traveled down this stream we found that it grew scarce, 
and on every side of us we could see dead horses and cattle, also 
thrown-away wagons and almost everything else but provisions. About thirty 
miles above the meadow I was one mule, three head of cattle and fourteen 
head of horses all a laying dead on one half acre of ground and for a 
hundred miles above the sink it was very much the same way, and there was 
no grass except at the meadow. The water of this river is very strongly 
impregnated with alkali which is the cause of so much stock dying on it. 
When we got to the meadow, which was the twenty third, flour sold at $2.00 
per pound and pork the same. [In the year 2000, pork and flour would sell 
for $42.00 per pound]. I saw a great many men without bread and some 
without any provision at all. I have seen men beg for a single mouthful and 
many subsisted on the flesh of cattle and horses that were worn out and 
could not travel. We did not fare so hard although we had to live on half 
rations and sometimes make a meal on one small biscuit and a little milk, 
for my cow gave us milk all the way through.

When we arrived at Truckee, which was the 20th, we were much worn down and 
our teams also, but we had good water and grass which we were very glad of. 
This stream is very clear, cold and swift, also very rocky. We traveled up 
it about 70 miles when we came to timber. It was a very pleasant sight to 
look once more at the thick forest. The road had by this time become very 
rocky and hard. I do not think that a wagon ever went over a worse road 
than this. We crossed the summit of the Sierra Nevada the 2nd of September. 
There is the handsomest timber on this mountain that I ever saw. Its 
altitude is so great that it is perpetually covered with snow and even at 
this time of the year we found service berries, gooseberries, mountain 
mulberries and cherries just getting ripe.

We finally arrived at the mines the 6th of September. We had at last 
arrived at our destination and glad were we to get off the road and once 
more be settled. I wrote you a letter from Steep Hollow, the place where we 
stopped but I suppose you never got it as you do not mention it. I think 
the road from the Missouri River to the South pass is the best natural road 
in the world of it length and the Humboldt is the most disgusting stream in 
the world.

As a farming country I would not give two counties in Iowa for all that I 
saw between the Missouri River and this place. I do not believe that there 
is a place in the world that man can be put that will make him as selfish 
and make him lose all morals and human feelings as quick as on these 
plains, and I often thought of what you told me of this.

If you please let this suffice for the present and I will tell you all 
about it when I return for I assure you that I shall never forget it.

I have now a better prospect than I have had since I have been here. I 
think I shall be able to send you some help between this and fall but 
cannot promise certain. Mr. Brown is dead and I have written you before I 
will answer Julia's letter soon. I want you to write as soon as you receive 
this. I have not gotten a line from [brother] Adin since I left home. Give 
my respects to all the family, relatives and all inquiring friends. No more 
at present but remain

Your affectionate son,

C. B. Williams

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